Healing of a fracture is influenced by the patient’s age and underlying health (children heal faster than adults and people with significant medical issues such as diabetes may have slower fracture healing). The pattern of the fracture, the force of the injury and the actual bone that is fractured all determine the speed of healing.
In general, most fractures in adults take approximately 6 weeks to heal. Similar fractures in children may take only 4 or 5 weeks to heal. Some slow healing fractures may take 3 months or even longer to heal.
Casts or braces that are used for fracture treatment are usually used for these same time periods – a typical wrist or ankle fracture usually requires 6 weeks of immobilisation and a typical fracture of a finger or toe usually requires 4 weeks of immobilisation.
The use of casts and braces have obvious downsides (skin irritation, muscle wasting, stiffness, smell) which start to outweigh the benefits (comfort, immobilising the fracture to allow bone healing) around this time period.
It is important to understand that after the immobilisation time has elapsed and the cast/brace is removed, the fracture is often not COMPLETELY healed, but is healed with enough strength that ongoing immobilisation is not required. As such, when the brace/cast is removed, the bone is usually not at 100% strength – this strength returns over the following 3-6 months.
During this time, the injured arm or leg can usually be used for daily activities without issue but return to high impact activities is often not advised.